September 23, 2020

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Fowl play

Kenneth Branagh's adaption of beloved fantasy book kills the magical mood

The good news for Disney is there’s a good excuse the long-awaited movie version of Eoin Colfer’s young-adult franchise-starter skipped theatres and went directly to the streaming service Disney Plus. It’s all because of that darn pandemic.

Yeah, that’s right. It was the pandemic.

Don’t you believe it. The movie might very well have bee-lined directly to streaming anyway because, well, it’s just a mess.

Colfer’s books tell the tale of Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw), a 12-year-old criminal mastermind who rattles around a huge Irish estate apparently dreaming up ways to find the favour of his master-thief father (Colin Farrell), also named Artemis Fowl. The lad has company, at least, in the hulking form of Butler (Nonso Anozie), whose job description wavers between manservant and bodyguard.

Ferdia Shaw in Artemis Fowl. Disney.</p></p>

Ferdia Shaw in Artemis Fowl. Disney.

When dad goes on a mysterious mission and ends up kidnapped, young Artemis sets out to find him and the magical doohickey dad evidently stole. In his search, Artemis comes to the shocking realization that the fairy world described in dad’s tall tales is actually real. In fact, beneath the surface of things, a whole world of fairies, trolls and goblins exist.

And soon, those very same creatures are invading Artemis’s space, including an especially plucky fairy named Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) and an obnoxious dwarf named Mulch Diggum (Josh Gad), both seeking the aforementioned doohickey.

In short order, the whole Fowl estate is overrun with fairy shock troops led by Commander Root (Judi Dench), a gravelly voiced, pointy-eared fairy commander with an army of magic folk and an armory of high-tech magical weapons at her disposal.

The movie has some technical issues: it’s badly edited to the point of incoherence. Branagh, a director of occasional brilliance (Dead Again), has literally lost the plot here.

But the most off-putting element may be the militarization of fairy folk. Having armoured fairies launching an assault on a house with magic cannons and assorted fairy tech feels like an American cultural invasion of Irish folklore: Queen Mab meets Rambo.

Judi Dench as Commander Root in Artemis Fowl.</p></p>

Judi Dench as Commander Root in Artemis Fowl.

But the biggest ankle-breaker of a hurdle is that it’s impossible to get onside with the hero. He’s a super-intelligent, arrogant little twerp.

Author Colfer set himself a challenge inventing such a kid for a hero, or rather, anti-hero. A few adult actors might be able to pull off smart and arrogant while retaining their charm, say, Jack Nicholson or Robert Downey Jr.

Alas, that’s well beyond the skill set of the young Shaw, perhaps the most utterly charmless onscreen juvenile since Anakin Skywalker in Episode One.

Fortunately, there is a charming youth around to mitigate the film’s overall tone of unpleasant chaos. McDonnell is an appealing and even sprightly Holly Short. Her journey is more interesting, too, taking her from the role of Artemis’s nemesis to his ally.

For film purposes, she should have been the film’s main character. Since Artemis has been described as a 12-year-old Bond villain, it would have made a lot more sense to have made her the movie’s de facto Bond.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Disney</p><p>From left: Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw in Artemis Fowl.</p>

Disney

From left: Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw in Artemis Fowl.

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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